How Can Your Brand Avoid an Experiential Fail? Envision the Worst Case Scenario

No one wants to become known for falling short of expectations

It's important to consider what the worst case scenario of your experiential campaign could be so you can avoid it becoming a reality. Getty Images
Headshot of Joanna Badamo

While most experiential marketing activations provide valuable opportunities for brands and consumers to connect in a real-time setting, the ones that fail generate the lion’s share of attention and create unnecessary fear around high-profile events. In order to begin a new project with your best foot forward, marketers must do recon on the program, client and target audience and then ask themselves the tough questions.

To set yourself up for experiential success and avoid risky pitfalls, here are five key questions to ask beforehand.

Could this be the wrong project for the right client?

It’s tempting to create experiential marketing experiences around Instagrammable moments or cutting-edge technology for clients with an appetite for events, but you need to ground your activation in substance. Start with the question, “What am I trying to accomplish?” and end with, “What do I want attendees to think and do post-event?” Ensure you’re providing a worthwhile, educational and ultimately impactful experience.

Worst case scenario

You create a high-tech activation featuring AR technology, but your attendees barely know how to video chat. The event looks sleek and polished, but your client’s message doesn’t translate, and there’s no measurable ROI.

The [experiential events] that fail generate the lion’s share of attention and create unnecessary fear around high-profile events.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Everyone wants to forecast the best possible outcome while balancing that optimism with a crisis plan for the doomsday scenario. Loop in your PR agency or communications team so they can offer an informed perspective on how the media might view an event failure and brainstorm a break-glass response strategy. Invest the time in a crisis plan to breathe easier on event day.

Worst case scenario

You hired an Instagram influencer on the rise to host a launch party for a new product, but your spokesperson posts an offensive video the day before. Without a plan in place to navigate a communications crisis, you jeopardized the brand by association, lost your host and subjected the client to a PR nightmare.

What is the guest’s point-of-view?

As the organizer, it’s easy to operate from a macro perspective and see how all the pieces fit together. However, before you map out an experiential event, know your audience. Start with a research deep-dive to understand patterns, likes, dislikes and hobbies, which will better inform your team to avoid potential hot buttons. Once you start creating the guest journey, look for compelling moments to spark conversation and spur media coverage while also monitoring for possible irritants that risk derailing the experience. By taking the time to immerse yourself in the guest’s shoes and evaluating what they’ll see and consume from their eyes, you’re minimizing the risk of an activation fail.

Worst case scenario

You planned a female-focused empowerment event geared toward working moms but neglected to provide a mother’s room for new parents. Your well-intentioned message falls flat because the space didn’t serve the audience.

Do I need to push back with purpose?

Ensure you’re not falling victim to group-think and letting momentum drive the wrong direction. Aggressive timelines, dominant leadership, big name brands and expansive budgets can easily distract an agency from pursuing the most critical planning question: Why? To maintain the integrity of your purpose throughout the project, create “why” checkpoints and hold your team accountable to answering at each major milestone so you stay on track.

Worst case scenario

Your client is convinced an expensive, A-list pop singer is the perfect entertainer for their event, but your team recognizes it’s a tone-deaf brand choice and doesn’t align with the company’s message or audience. If you don’t make the case for an alternate solution, you risk overshadowing the event’s impact in the span of one song.

What’s the right brand balance?

When you’re bringing a brand to life in a physical space for B2B or B2C events, marketers tend to have a blind spot. Brand fatigue. Attendees are savvy and selective these days, tuning into the brands that speak to them and filtering out the rest. Authenticity and using sensory cues selectively is key to capturing their attention.

Instead of micromanaging the attendee experience and jam-packing content into each moment, give people breathing room, allow them to forge a natural connection to the brand and provide organic opportunities for attendees to interact. When it comes to conferences or sponsored activations, network and chill can be the most effective approach.

Worst case scenario

You are the helicopter parent of events. Your attendees feel smothered by brand control and lack the autonomy to navigate freely and organically connect with your brand. Instead of encouraging new consumers to pay attention, they’re tuning you out.

While experiential marketing carries a degree of risk, the rewards can be worth the effort. Askt the hard questions upfront—of yourself, your team and your client—to ensure you’re headed in the right direction. By facing down potential pitfalls at the beginning, you can clear the path for a successful event.


Joanna Badamo is the associate strategy director of AgencyEA.